‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Author’s note: If you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” yet, go watch it and come back — spoilers ahead. For the rest of you: this is the way.

The internet has been buzzing about “The Mandalorian,” the “Star Wars” series that follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter (of the same tribe and iconic armor as Boba Fett) who finds a young, force-sensitive creature who looks like a baby Yoda. The series hasn’t just produced a slew of new memes, it’s crushed the ratings on several platforms — IMDB has it at an 8.9, and Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 94 percent on the Tomatometer (with an audience score of 93 percent).


It has all the familiar, nostalgic elements of “Star Wars” — spectacular scenes in space, fun action-adventure, weird creatures, the conflict of good and evil, and, of course, the force. However, “The Mandalorian” also includes a host of cowboy movie tropes, which adds a freshness to the story. It’s not like any old Western we’ve seen — after all, it’s set in space with little alien wizards. It’s also not a repeat of other “Star Wars” stories because it’s basically an old Western set in a fantasy universe.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

We can’t publish an article on “The Mandalorian” without showing “the child” at least once.

(Photo courtesy of Disney+)

In order to understand old Western films, we need to understand where they came from. Many of the old Western tropes are American, but some are borrowed from older Japanese cinema. The obvious connection is the Japanese classic “Seven Samurai” being remade into the American cowboy classic “The Magnificent Seven.” While this is the most famous connection between the two genres, it’s not the only one. The music, the stories, the filmmaking techniques — watch any film by Akira Kurosawa and you’ll see elements of the Western left and right.

“The Mandalorian” borrows from both.

It makes sense to begin with the Mandalorian’s religion — his weapons. Our protagonist carries around his handheld blaster and a disintegration rifle (known as a modified Amban Rifle). These are clearly the equivalent of a revolver and a rifle, the cowboy’s typical loadout in most Westerns. Mando generally draws and fires his blaster from the hip, just like the classic Wild West draw. Any bigger weapons brought onto the battlefield are typically large, mounted weapons — the equivalent of the evil antagonist breaking out a Gatling gun mounted to a train or on a tripod. The lasso is another quintessential tool for the cowboy of old Westerns — depicted in “The Mandalorian” by his grappling line. Mando wraps a few enemies up in his “lasso” throughout the story, hog-tying his targets.

The Mandalorian

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Several specific moments also call directly back to the films of the Wild West. For example, the classic “horse whisperer” scene where Mando tames and breaks a blurrg. He is bucked and thrown as the wise, old man watches from the edge of the corral. Finally, our hero mounts the beast and they ride into a few sunsets together.

We mentioned that the Japanese film “Seven Samurai” was the direct inspiration for “The Magnificent Seven” — both films feature bandits who are hell bent on raiding a village, forcing the townspeople to enlist the help of some elite warriors to train them and defend them against the next onslaught. Sound familiar? This same story played out in a chapter of “The Mandalorian” with some unique, sci-fi twists — we don’t remember an AT-ST in “Seven Samurai.”

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

The comparisons are obvious.

(Photo courtesy of Disney+.)

On top of congruent storylines, one of the most significant ways that Japanese cinema inspired old Westerns was with its music; “Star Wars” also features some of the most iconic music in film history. Ludwig Goransson’s score of “The Mandalorian” fuses the two by combining elements from old Westerns (and perhaps old Japanese films) like the heavy beating of drums with “primitive” sounding percussion, bizarre flutes, and interesting stringed instruments. The hollow melody of the main title would be just as at home if it was played over a lone gunslinger in the Wild West, riding off to save a small town from nefarious bandits. The score cloaks the Mandalorian himself in a shroud of mystery.

Start with some old Japanese film score elements, mix in a bit of Ennio Morricone, then top it off with heavy sprinkles of classic “Star Wars” sweeping scores — and you’ve got yourself a soundtrack fit for the halls of Mandalore.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” (left), and “The Mandalorian.”

(Photos courtesy of United Artists and Disney+.)

The setting and wardrobe also highlight the connection of this magical, dystopian science-fiction narrative to the Wild West. Most of the events in “The Mandalorian” are set in barren places — not on the lavish planet of Naboo or the bustling cities of Coruscant, but out in the lawless desert where guns and criminals abound. And Pedro Pascal (the Mandalorian) sports a cape eerily similar to how Clint Eastwood wears his poncho in classics like “A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Instead of high-tech visors, many of the inhabitants of these barren locations wear old-school goggles, and they wear their blasters low on their hip just like the cowboys we know from the Old West. The Mandalorian even keeps rounds strung across his chest — one wouldn’t expect the need for that in a science-fiction universe, but it all falls in line with the classic Western aesthetic.

A lot of old Westerns are films about rugged individualism. They follow rough characters who have to navigate their way through an even rougher world. The protagonist then finds at least one redeeming aspect about the unforgiving, desolate landscape on which they fight — something precious among the thorns. Upon that discovery, the cowboy or lawman or mercenary finds that their ability to fight, to be strong, to kill — it all suddenly has meaning — it suddenly turns into the ability to protect a village, a woman, a friend… or a child.

Jon Favreau has taken a beloved franchise and breathed new life into it by fusing it with these classic elements from old Western films, and it’s been a wild success. Audiences around the world have expressed how thrilled they are at this new installment of “Star Wars,” and I, for one, can’t wait for the second season.

Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2

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This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Bush climbed from Navy’s youngest pilot to president

His background was a little different than most who join the military at the age of eighteen, but his warmth, love of country and drive to serve made him a leader respected up and down his chains of command.

Service members who worked with former President George H.W. Bush, first as Ronald Reagan’s vice president and, later, during his presidential term, spoke of the way he remembered their names and would ask about their families. They were loyal to him and he was loyal right back.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1ffz7RWFZs
President George H.W. Bush: Remembering 41

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Bush himself said it best in his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1989: “We are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We cannot hope only to leave our children a bigger car, a bigger bank account. We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and town better than he found it.

“What do we want the men and women who work with us to say when we are no longer there? That we were more driven to succeed than anyone around us? Or that we stopped to ask if a sick child had gotten better, and stayed a moment there to trade a word of friendship?”

Bush, who died last night at age 94, was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. He graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, on his 18th birthday in 1942 and immediately joined the Navy. With World War II raging, Bush earned his wings in June 1943. He was the youngest pilot in the Navy at that time.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

George H.W. Bush seated in a Grumman TBM Avenger, circa 1944.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Flew Torpedo Bombers

The future president flew torpedo bombers off the USS San Jacinto in the Pacific. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission over Chichi Jima in 1944. Even though his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire, he completed his bombing run before turning to the sea. Bush managed to bail out of the burning aircraft, but both of his crewmen died. The submarine USS Finback rescued him.

On Jan. 6, 1945, Bush married Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. They had six children: George, Robin (who died of leukemia in 1953), Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy Bush Koch.

After the war, Bush attended Yale and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. He and his wife moved to Texas, where he entered the oil business. Bush served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1966 to 1970.

In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon named Bush as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. In October 1974, President Gerald R. Ford named Bush chief of the U.S. liaison office in Beijing, and in 1976, Ford appointed him to be director of central intelligence.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Chief Justice William Rehnquist administers the Presidential Oath of Office to George H. W. Bush during his Jan. 20, 1989 inauguration ceremony at the United States Capitol.

Vice President, Then President

In 1980, Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Ronald Reagan won the primaries and secured the nomination, and he selected Bush as his running mate. On Jan. 20, 1981, Bush was sworn in for the first of two terms as vice president.

The Republicans selected Bush as presidential nominee in 1988. His pledge at the national convention — “Read my lips: no new taxes” — probably got him elected, but may have worked to make him a one-term president.

Bush became the 41st president of the United States and presided over the victory of the West. During his tenure, the Berlin Wall – a symbol of communist oppression since 1961 – fell before the appeal of freedom. The nations of Eastern Europe withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and freely elected democracies began taking hold.

Even more incredible was the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. Kremlin hard-liners tried to seize power and enforce their will, but Boris Yeltsin rallied the army and citizens for freedom. Soon, nations long under Soviet domination peeled away and began new eras.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

President Bush participates in a full cabinet meeting in the cabinet room.

(U.S. National Archives photo by Susan Biddle)

Military Action

In 1989, Bush ordered the U.S. military in to Panama to overthrow the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega. Noriega had allowed Panama to become a haven for narcoterrorists, and he subsequently was convicted of drug offenses.

But Bush is best remembered for his swift and decisive efforts following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The Iraqi dictator claimed that Kuwait historically was his country’s “19th province.” His troops pushed into Kuwait and threatened to move into Saudi Arabia.

Bush drew “a line in the sand” and promised to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait. He put together a 30-nation coalition that liberated Kuwait in February 1991. Operation Desert Storm showed Americans and the world the devastating power of the U.S. military.

At the end of the war, Bush had historic approval ratings from the American people. But a recession – in part caused by Saddam’s invasion – and having to backtrack on his pledge not to raise taxes cost him the election in 1992. With third-party candidate Ross Perot pulling in 19 percent of the vote, Bill Clinton was elected president.

Bush lived to see his son – George W. Bush – elected president, and he worked with the man who defeated him in 2006 to raise money for millions of people affected by an Indian Ocean tsunami and for Hurricane Katrina relief.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

President Bush visits troops in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day 1990.

‘Freedom Works’

In his inaugural address, the elder Bush spoke about America having a meaning “beyond what we see.” The idea of America and what it stands for is important in the world, he said.

“We know what works: freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state,” he said.

“We must act on what we know,” he said later in the speech. “I take as my guide the hope of a saint: in crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.”

It was the mark of the man.

popular

This video shows how ‘Full Metal Jacket’ was made

Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is arguably one of the most influential military movies of all time. It’s the movie would-be troops romanticize about before enlisting in the military and it’s certainly the movie they watch to mentally prepare themselves before shipping off to boot camp to face their drill instructors.


However, as iconic as this 1987 film has become, it almost didn’t turn out that way. This 30-minute video shows how Full Metal Jacket was made and what the cast and crew did to “get it right.” There are plenty of interesting tidbits, like how relatively unknown actor Vincent D’Onofrio initially didn’t even want to do the film, and why a horrific scene between “Animal Mother” and the sniper was cut out.

Watch (profanity warning):


Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY MOVIES

‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 premiere watched by record 17.4 million viewers

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” had its biggest night ever on April 14, 2019.

The epic fantasy series was watched by 17.4 million viewers across all HBO platforms (linear TV, HBO Go, and HBO Now) during its final season premiere, breaking the show’s previous viewership record of 16.9 million for the season seven finale in 2017. The season seven premiere was watched by 16.1 million viewers.

HBO said on April 15, 2019, that viewership for its standalone streaming platform, HBO Now, grew by 50% from the season seven finale, and by 97% from the season seven premiere. It’s the biggest streaming night for HBO of all time.


The 9 p.m. airing on the premium cable network reeled in 11.8 million viewers, but failed to break the record set by the season seven finale’s 12.1 million viewers. But HBO said this could have been affected by the Dish dispute. HBO became unavailable for Dish subscribers in November 2018, after the two sides failed to land on a deal. Dish urged its subscribers to sign up for HBO Now ahead of the “Game of Thrones” premiere.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western
(HBO)


“Even though HBO is not available on Dish, you can still watch their content with the HBO NOW app,” a video on Dish’s website explained on April 14, 2019.

Just how big a night did “Game of Thrones” have compared to TV’s top shows?

For comparison, the highest-rated shows of 2018, according to Nielsen, included “Roseanne” (20 million average viewers), “Big Bang Theory” (18.3 million average viewers), “NCIS” (16.3 million average viewers), and “This Is Us” (16.6 million viewers). Nielsen’s “Game of Thrones” ratings, which don’t include streaming data, will be released on April 16, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

popular

Why the US military has shoulder pockets

In 2004, the U.S. Army unveiled its new combat uniform, complete with upgrades including wrinkle-free fabric and a digitized camouflage print. The Army Combat Uniform (ACU) had many changes (18, in fact), but one of the troop favorites was the shoulder pocket.


 

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

 

Obviously, pockets themselves weren’t new to military uniforms. The quintessential pant-leg cargo pocket was indispensable in the Korean War; as a result, cargo pockets have adorned military combat uniforms (and military-inspired fashion?) ever since. They were also used on blouses during the Vietnam War, and after 9/11, they got fancy even more utilitarian.

“This isn’t about a cosmetic redesign of the uniform,” said Col. John Norwood, the project manager for Clothing and Individual Equipment. “It’s a functionality change of the uniform that will improve the ability of Soldiers to execute their combat mission.”

One of the favored changes was the addition of the shoulder pocket, which replaced the bottom pockets on the jacket after troops realized they couldn’t access the front of their uniform while wearing body armor. The shoulder, however, was a handy location. These were tilted forward and buttons were replaced with zippers for function and comfort in combat.

Also read: 5 ways US military combat uniforms have changed since Vietnam

Prior to the uniform change, troops in the field had been modifying their gear to include the shoulder pocket for years, including Desert Storm and the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western
It’s the perfect size for your sanity. (Image via Mil-Spec Monkey)

Regulations around the pocket only dictate that “articles carried in pockets do not protrude from the pocket or present a bulky appearance,” so what’s actually carried in them is up to the individual, but it gets fascinating. Users on reddit list everything from pens and notebooks, U.S. flag patches to hand out to local children, to candy…which got me thinking…

…what did you carry in your shoulder pocket? Leave me a comment and let me know.

MIGHTY TRENDING

U.S. threatens stronger response to Syrian chemical weapons

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser issued a crystal clear warning to Syria on Sept. 10, 2018, stressing that if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons again, it will face a “much stronger” response than before.

“We’ve tried to convey the message in recent days that if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger,” White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sept. 10, 2018, “I can say we have been in consultations with the British and the French who have joined us in the second strike, and they also agree that another use of chemical weapons will result in a much stronger response.”


The United Nations has accused Syria of launching dozens of chemical weapons attacks using both sarin and chlorine gas, and in response to two particularly devastating incidents, the US used military force to persuade the Syrian regime to adhere to acceptable warfighting methods.

The US first struck Syria on April 7, 2017, striking the Shayrat Airbase in Syria with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Mediterranean Sea in response to the use of chemical weapons (sarin) at Khan Shaykhun just three days earlier.

The chemical weapons attack, attributed to the Syrian regime, reportedly killed more than 70 people and injured over 550 more, at the time making it the deadliest such attack of the Syrian civil war since the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta four years prior.

The devastating attack just a few months into Trump’s presidency reportedly led the president to call Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and demand the assassination of the Syrian leadership. “Let’s f—ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them,” Trump told Mattis, according to an excerpt from Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in the White House” the subject of much debate and controversy.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro)

The president, Mattis, and the Pentagon have all denied that the conversations detailed in the book ever took place.

Almost one year after the first incident, the Syrian regime allegedly launched a second major chemical weapons assault on a suburb in Damascus, killing dozens of people in Douma. The US, supported by Britain and France, conducted coordinated strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, crippling but not eliminating the regime’s chemical weapons capabilities.

The strikes came from both sea and air, whereas the previous strikes were launched by two destroyers.

Syrian, Russian, and pro-regime forces are now massing around Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria, and the US government has intelligence that the Syrian government may again use chemical weapons. The Pentagon has already begun preparing military options should the president decide to respond militarily to any use of chemical weapons in the Idlib offensive.

“The president expects us to have military options in the event that chemical weapons are used,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Sept. 8, 2018, “We have provided updates to him on the development of those military options.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders warned that the US will respond “swiftly and appropriately” should Assad use chemical weapons against the Syrian people, and Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning explained Sept. 10, 2018, that “the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated by the US or the coalition.”

“As you have seen in the past, any use of chemical weapons has resulted in a very swift response by the United States and our coalition partners. We have communicated that to Damascus, and we hope that they adhere to it.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US carriers are mythical juggernauts that might die in a new war

The US Navy’s 11 aircraft super carriers represent the envy of the world in terms of naval might and power projection, but the cult status they’ve achieved and the rise of Russia and China’s missile fleets could lose the US its next war.

The myth of aircraft carrier goes that in times of crisis, the first question a president asks is: Where are the aircraft carriers?

The US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers tower above most buildings at 130 feet above the waterline. More than 1,000 feet in length displacing 100,000 tons of water, they transcend the idea of ships and become floating cities, or mobile airfields.


Around 80 aircraft and 7,000 sailors, marines, and pilots live aboard the craft as its nuclear reactor steams it across the world’s oceans at a remarkable clip. One of these carriers costs about billion. The aircraft on board likely cost another billion or so.

The lives of the crew and the significance of the carrier to the US’s understanding of its national power are priceless.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Sailors signal an E-2D Hawkeye ready for launch on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, Oct. 27, 2018.

(US Navy photo by Mass Comm. Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

Mythical creatures

Jerry Hendrix, a former captain in the US Navy who worked with the chief of naval operation’s executive panel on naval aviation and missile defense cautioned at a Heritage Foundation talk on Dec. 11, 2018, that the carriers may have become too mythological to fight.

“Carriers have gone beyond mere naval platforms to become near mystical symbols of American national power,” said Hendrix. “They are the symbol of the nation, its greatness, in the way they are perceived as asset of national prestige.”

If the US purchased all of one carrier in a single year, it would eat 80% of the total shipbuilding budget, Hendrix said.

But with the proliferation of carrier-killer missiles from China and Russia, meaning missiles purpose-built to sink carriers at sea from ranges far beyond the furthest missile from the furthest-flying jet off a carrier’s deck, it’s not immediately clear how these massive ships can bring their impressive power to bear.

Carriers sail with a strike group of dedicated warships that can take on submarines, missiles, aircraft, and other surface combatants.

Bryan Clarke, former special assistant to the chief of naval operations who also spoke at Heritage, said that in a best-case scenario, a carrier strike group could down 450 incoming missiles. China could likely muster 600 missiles in an attack about 1,000 miles off their coast.

So short of some revolution in strike group armaments or tactics, China looks to have a solid chance at sinking the mythical aircraft carrier.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

The last time the US lost an aircraft carrier was in World War II.

(NETNebraska)

Too big to fail?

“Presidents may well be hesitant to introduce carriers inside dense portions of the enemy’s threat environment,” said Hendrix. “The military may make that advice based upon the mission they’ve been given,” he continued, “but the president might not feel comfortable risking it.”

The commander in chief of the US military owes his job to public opinion. Losing an aircraft carrier at sea would shock a nation that hasn’t seen such destruction in a single battle since the Vietnam war.

“For fear of loss of national prestige or even their political power,” US presidents might not even want to use carriers, said Hendrix. “For the loss of an aircraft carrier will have a significant impact on the national conversation.”

“We need to begin as a nation to have a conversation that prepares the American people for war,” said Hendrix. “There is, unfortunately, the heavy potential of conflict coming, but the nation is not ready for heavy battle damage to its navy and specifically not to its aircraft carriers. We need to move these assets back in the realm of being weapons, and not being perceived as mystical unicorns.”

But Bryan McGrath, founding managing director of The FerryBridge Group LLC, a naval consultancy, told Business Insider that the US’s enemies would think twice before targeting a carrier, and that a wartime US Navy and people can and have risen to the task of fighting on through sunk carriers in the past.

“The decision to go after an aircraft carrier, short of the deployment of nuclear weapons, is the decision that a foreign power would take with the most reticence,” said McGrath. “The other guy knows that if that is their target, the wrath of god will come down on them.”

For now, the expert community remains split around the utility of aircraft carriers going forward, but the US Navy continues to build them and set thousands to sea on them in a sure sign of confidence.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

From Generation Kill to This Is Us, Jon Huertas talks family, career and life in the Air Force

Jon Huertas is one of the most successful Latino actors of today. Having been a lead on shows such as Generation Kill, Castle, This Is Us, and in the military film The Objective, Huertas is well-known for the depth of his talent. Perhaps lesser known: He’s an Air Force veteran. Huertas served in the Air Force before transitioning over to acting where he comes at his craft and profession from a much deeper perspective than one might recognize at a quick glance. He shares his stories here about where he has been, where he wants to go and changes he believes are necessary in the Entertainment industry.


‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Photo credit IMDB.com

WATM: Tell me about your family and your life growing up?

My upbringing was sometimes tough at times, although my mom and grandparents tried their best to make family life easier. You are born what you’re born into, where you try to come out with a smile on your face.

WATM: What is the most distinct memory of your mother and your father?

My mother worked very hard and the best as she could for her family. I grew up with my grandparents where my grandfather was adamant about studying effectively and always being a student of life. You never really master anything and need to keep an open mind because nothing is solid and everything in life tends to be fluid. So, I always try to learn something new to be ready for life’s many changes. My grandmother had a good sense of humor and she didn’t take herself too seriously. She was always laughing and always having fun. Our life on this planet is super short, with how small of creatures we truly are in the universe. And in retrospect to how long the earth has been here.

WATM: What values were stressed at home?

In many ways I raised myself and made mistakes where I could have landed on a completely different path in life. I had a dream to be an actor and also a hero complex with a developing desire to also serve my country. These desires mostly kept me out of trouble growing up…”mostly,” but getting in trouble a few times steered me in the right direction. My goals kept me focused and not ending up in situations where I shouldn’t be. It was like I would have internal conversations with myself about my goals and which forced me to grow up.

WATM: What influenced you to join the US Air Force, what was your experience and what lessons did you take away from your service?

A lot of men in my family served, including my grandfather who was in the Navy, my uncle was in the Navy and I had several uncles that served in the Marine Corps as well. I saw pictures of them, especially the black and white picture of my grandfather in uniform, where I actually saw myself in that photo. I went to the Navy recruiter first then off to MEPS but then joined the Air Force after a conversation with a family member. I’d always loved flying, I loved airplanes and helicopters, so it was only natural that I joined the AF instead.

Serving your country is one of the last rites of passage in our country. And while I served, I identified and followed good leaders so I could aspire to one day become one myself. That’s my biggest take away from my time in the AF. You can find your family anywhere and when you’re in the military, you create this family around you at your duty stations. When you leave that one, you then have to find your new family at your next duty station. It’s actually fairly easy for humans to adapt in a situation where you have to find “your people”. I learned that I needed to surround myself with the people that were going to help me attain my goals. I got this from the AF, but I feel it can work for anyone whether the serve or not.

WATM: What values have you carried over from the USAF into acting?

The two most valuable things I took away from the AF is having a strong sense of initiative and discipline. It takes initiative to get your career started. Becoming an actor is one of the hardest careers. It is not even really a career; it is a lifestyle. So having the initiative to figure it all out was huge for me. And you have to have the discipline to stick with it and not give up. Knowing that being in constant training will keep you sharp and ready. In the military we are always improving on our training. It is the same with acting, I am constantly training. There are wonderful acting classes, books to read and films to watch. When you get the opportunity to finally go in for an audition, you should feel like you are the best that you think you can be, then show them that you are the best one for that job.

WATM: What is the most fulfilling project you have done and why?

My most fulfilling role is definitely in “Generation Kill” as Sgt. Tony Espera. This was because they had developed a wonderfully complex Latino character. It was unlike any other show that I had worked on. My character, Espera, wasn’t a narco trafficker or a low-level thug, he was someone who had chosen to serve his country. Probably the most developed Latino character I have ever played. HBO, David Simon, Ed Burns and Evan Wright showed gumption by making Espera one of the leads in the show. And it was so gratifying to portray a character like him — to tell an authentic story to the men and women who serve our country and to stay truthful to what happened during the invasion. The writer of the book, Evan Wright, was on set and would provide key advice. Evan had a micro recorder that he always had on him to where if we questioned some of the dialogue, he would pull out the recorder and we could hear our dialog being said, as it happened, by the real guys we were portraying. For advisors on the story, we had the real Rudy Reyes playing himself, with Jeff Carazales and Erick Kocher, also there but being portrayed by actors. Of course, we would them if, in these scripts, it was the way that it really happened, and they let us know it was.

The two biggest compliments I’ve ever received as an actor was when Tony Espera’s wife saw GK at the Camp Pendleton premiere and she asked me, “How was I able to be Tony?” and the other was Tony himself telling me, “I felt like I was watching memories, not a TV show.” Because of that, Generation Kill is the pinnacle of my career.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Jon Huertas, Alexander Skarsgard, and Lee Tergeson in “Generation Kill”. Photo credit IMDB.com

WATM: What was your experience like in working with such talents as Nathan Fillion, Stana Katic, Rob Bowman, Alex Skarsgard, Susana White, Simon Cellan Jones, Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Dan Fogelman, and the like?

Castle is something that I had never experienced before. It is probably the most collaborative show I have ever worked on. They let me help develop Esposito, the character I played. He wasn’t a veteran in the pilot. I asked the producers if I could make him an Army veteran and they let me do it. The relationship I had with Nathan Fillion and Seamus Dever, where our characters, were normally the looser part of the story when compared with the Beckett character played by Stana Katic. We could play around a little more and Stana usually played the straight woman, mirroring the audience’s perspective. She was so good at portraying that character and bringing the three of us back to a more grounded place for the procedural aspect of the show. We were able to figure out how to play, what could’ve been repetitive tropes, differently by infusing character and humor into it that made us stick out. Rob Bowman directed our pilot and he is a mentor to me. He was my first teacher as a director, and he was so encouraging for us to bring more humor. He loved to laugh and wanted us to improve the story by having us not take ourselves too seriously which I think allowed the audience to root for us.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever in “Castle”. Photo credit IMDB.com

I can’t say enough about Seamus Dever who played my partner on the show. He is not only a loyal actor but an even more loyal friend. He was always protective of me and our work. He made my time on Castle the best time I could have had. Nathan is such a giving person and super generous. He wasn’t always trying to be the center of the show, he loved highlighting what the rest of us did. The most fun I had was trying to make Nathan laugh during a take, which I reprised when I got to guest with Nathan on The Rookie last year.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion, and Jon Huertas in “Castle”. Photo credit IMDB.com

After working on Generation Kill, it was amazing to see so many of the guys go off and do such wonderful work after the show. Alexander Skarsgard’s career has been amazing, from doing True Blood to Tarzan and tons of other amazing gigs. And to think he was thinking about quitting acting right before the GK?! Brad “Iceman” Colbert, who Alexander portrayed in Generation Kill, was super proud of Alexander’s work portraying him. Alex and I are still tight as well as most everyone from the show like, James Ransone, Stark Sands, Wilson Bethel, Michael Kelley, and many others. We’re all like brothers now. Almost every single guy from Generation Kill was at my wedding and it was a destination wedding in Mexico, I still can’t believe they all came there for me. I even flew with guys from Generation Kill to England to go to Stark Sands’ wedding. There have been several destination weddings from guys on that show. Everyone on Generation Kill was such a joy to work with, they pushed me, and I pushed them and their dedication in getting the story right made me very proud.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Kellan Lutz, Sal Alvarez, Jon Huertas, Pawel Szajda, and Stefan Otto in Generation Kill.

The experience was almost like being deployed. We shot for nearly eight months in Africa in the countries of Namibia, South Africa’s and in Mozambique. We were a cast made up of almost all guys and for Susana White to not only keep us all from killing each other, she did such an amazing job with the subject matter and was so open to getting the story right. She ended up nominated for Emmy for GK and, in fact, the show was nominated for eleven Emmys. Simon Kellan Jones is a blast to work with and made the set such a fun place to be. Even though we were telling a story that sometimes had us calling in an air strike on the civilian populace, Simon helped us process it so we didn’t bring in too much darkness where people may not watch it.

Now, This Is Us is a family show with no guns like a lot of shows I’ve done in the past. It does feel like a family and all that trickles down through Dan Fogelman. He sets the tone for the show. It is rare to be part of a show that has the impact that this show has. It’s another once in a lifetime experience to be on a show that has touched so many people in so many profound ways.
‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Jon Huertas, Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore and Wynn Everett in “This Is Us”. Photo credit IMDB.com

All of the projects I’ve been a part of have been amazing in their own way. But working in this industry for the past 25 years, I’ve seen a lack of people behind the scenes that I can say have had similar experiences as an adult male Latino. Meaning…I’ve been working a lot of episodes of television from guest stars to series regulars to leads and I’ve only been directed by one adult male Latino. That is one a hole that still needs to be filled as well as TV writers, Show Runners, Producers and Executives.

After This Is Us ends, I’d like to spend more time behind the camera in the director’s chair and in writing. With the lack of Latino writers in TV, so many characters and storylines featuring Latinos are in roles of a negative stereotype or in menial roles like the gardener or cook instead of as heroes, champions, romantics and role models. So, until you can get people that are writing about it, producing it, developing it, greenlighting it or directing it you are not going to see it. I feel a responsibility to be a part of pushing that message forward. I see a lack of representation at the network, studio and production level for Latinos and I hope to be a part of changing that as well.

As a little kid I had this hero complex. I watched TV and movies, but rarely did I see anyone who looked or talked like me. I watched the old “Batman” TV series with Adam West and I loved Adam West but… he didn’t look like me. So in the back of my mind, I thought that I couldn’t be Batman because he was white. Marvel still hasn’t stepped up with Latino representation. In the TV world there was a recurring character called, Ghost Rider on Agents of Shield but for 20 plus years of doing Marvel in the cinematic universe, they’ve yet to have one adult male Latino as a superhero in his own title.

Erik Estrada was an influential to me while growing up as well as Esai Morales, who was another mentor of mine. I saw him for the first time in a Sean Penn movie called Bad Boys and I think that was the first time I saw someone who really looked like me. It took me seeing someone like me to have the confidence to aspire to become an actor. Latino characters need to be portrayed as the hero, the guy that gets the girl, and the wealthy guy. We have to force ourselves to tell stories that are an equal slice of life. The best bite of a stew is one with all of the pieces of the stew, not just the same three or four pieces.

WATM: What leadership lessons in life and from the USAF have helped you most in your career?

Instead of making emotional decisions allow your emotions to inspire a calculated decision. That is what shows a true leader: You are not letting your emotions speak for you are letting your emotions inspire you to make the best decision. Emotional decisions can be like gut punches where you just react. A person may not think a certain way where they lash out after being hurt.

As an actor your job is to convey an emotion so you can get an emotional response from your audience. If a director and another actor come in and they’re trying to guide your personal choices to benefit them and you feel they’re trying to manipulate your artistic vision for your character, you could become emotional. If you let your emotion take over, you might regret reacting the way you do and end up looking like the problem in the moment. Now there’s tension between actor and director or actor and actor. If you take just a moment and think internally, “How do I get what I want?” You say, “I see where you are coming from, but does this have any value?”You may get them to see it from your perspective and you help them make your decision for you. Now that is, “if” your decision does have value. If so, how can they deny it?

Good decision-making trickles down from the top. From the president to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Pentagon. Even on the unit level from the battalion commander to the platoon commander and on down.

WATM: As a veteran, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood and stage arena?

Think back to It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart where he was a WWII veteran. Stories are already being told that veterans like to watch but we need to encourage veterans to step up and write, direct, produce stories that speak not only to veteran audiences but also the general market. Veterans a lot of times make the focus of their stories completely from a veteran POV but instead need to create a story everyone will be into and then just happen to make the characters veterans. It’s almost like when you are laying out your characters and mark one with a green dot “veteran”. Back in the day, we just wouldn’t watch a lot of the TV shows or films that centered on veterans because Hollywood usually got it wrong. But now that’s changed. Some bars have been set high because some of the more recent military based projects, especially the higher quality ones, have hired advisors and/or worked with veterans from the inception of the projects. Just like I have to step out as a Latino and encourage others to do so, we need to encourage veterans to step out as well to write the stories.

Just like what I shared about training, not only when serving, when starting out as an actor but also veterans who want to tell their stories need to study creative writing and learn how to write a, treatments, out lines, pitches, log-lines and eventually an amazing screenplay. You have to write something that is not only a great story, but that is produce-able. The hope is that you can sell it somewhere and it’s given a proper budget so the integrity and authenticity can be upheld. As a veteran that wants to write a series about a veteran you may have to work as a staff writer on a show that is not about veterans, so you have to have an open mind. You have to have the skills to write a good script and then after a season or so you can talk to the producers about trying to introduce a character that is a veteran. You have to get into that writer’s room and win hearts and minds. Invest in the writer’s room and then move to the director’s chair and the executive’s chair at the studio, be in charge of what is getting made. You might be able to get into a position to inspire every project created at the studio level, who knows.

WATM: What are you most proud of in life and your career?

I’m proud to have been a working actor who happens to be Latino and also proud to be veterans who has represented veterans truthfully on screen. Portraying veteran and Latino characters positively has hopefully affected someone out there positively as well.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Mrs. Missouri 2019 is an Army spouse

Chelsea George of Waynesville, or more recently known as Mrs. Missouri, is a fan of adventures.

Her husband, Capt. Tony George, currently serves at Fort Leonard Wood. He is the same way, she said, and with being part of a military family, she’s had quite the journey.

“My family, we’re currently on a quest to see all 50 states,” she said. “Every time we got orders somewhere, we were excited about the adventure.”

Her family first moved to the area for six months in 2013 during her husband’s Captains Career Course.

She said adjusting to the difference in regional lifestyle was difficult, but social connections made the transition easier.


“I think it’s really important to get plugged in with different groups, whether it’s volunteering or joining a club, because it can be kind of slow at first,” she said.

Out of her desire to integrate into the surrounding community, she was introduced to the Mrs. Missouri pageant, which she would win six years later after several back-to-back moves and returning to Fort Leonard Wood.

Chelsea George

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“It was a really good way to meet friends when I moved to a different state,” she said. “That was what initially got me into it, but it (also) gave (me) a platform to speak about things that are important to (me).”

Her platform was a choice riddled with emotions from years past, she said. To Chelsea George, there are few more important causes than skin cancer prevention.

“Ten years ago this year, I had my uncle Jamie pass away from melanoma,” she said.

He was 42 years old.

“It was five months from the day he was diagnosed to the day he died,” she added. “He had a big part in raising me.”

Because of her single mother’s working hours and pursuing a doctorate, she said, she spent several nights a week at her uncle’s house.

“He was this big, huge 6-foot 7-inch police officer in an area that was kind of rough, a suburb of Dayton, Ohio, where I lived,” she said. “To me, (he) was my hero, and nothing could touch him. (He) couldn’t be defeated.”

“Then, to see this terrible disease take him so quickly, it’s definitely something that really molded me and changed me going into adulthood,” Chelsea George said.

She was 19 years old.

“The phrase ‘grief is a process’ is definitely not a lie,” she said. “For a long time, I really couldn’t even talk about it without being super emotional.”

George was previously a licensed cosmetologist, and even though she wasn’t vocal about her platform yet, she volunteered to assist cancer patients who wanted to “look good (and) feel better.”

“Women who have cancer (would) come in and get a makeover,” she said. “You (would) teach them how to deal with things like losing eyebrows, how to apply makeup to cover that, how to pick a wig that’s best for (them).”

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Chelsea George.

“It wasn’t melanoma-specific, because I knew I wanted to help (all) people with cancer, but I wasn’t ready to talk about my uncle Jamie and his story,” she added.

George would later graduate with a degree in exercise science and begin working at the Missouri University of Science and Technology Wellness Department. This education, coupled with a natural maturing in the grief process, she said, allowed her to open up about her hero.

“I finally got to the point where I could talk to people about it,” she said. “Working in the field of prevention specifically kind of led me to realize, ‘I can take what I know about prevention work and put it toward this thing that’s super important to me, and hopefully make the smallest bit of difference.'”

Bringing light to melanoma prevention and education carried her to the competition where she would ultimately be crowned Mrs. Missouri.

Even on stage, she said, it’s still a sensitive subject.

“I think there were 5 judges, and I cried with 4 of them,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s still hard to talk about, but it’s important to talk about. Knowing how important the message is, (even) if I stumble over my words, that’s okay, as long as the message gets out.”

The next year will prove to be a significant one for George as she advocates for her cause, celebrates her 10th wedding anniversary and competes for Mrs. United States in Las Vegas in August 2019.

“She worked so hard not only for the pageant but she’s worked on her education, getting her bachelor’s degree and working on her master’s degree, she’s holding down a full-time job and parenting two kids,” Tony George said. “I’m proud of her for all the work she’s done.”

The last Mrs. Missouri contestant to win the title of Mrs. United States was Aquillia Vang in 2012, a Waynesville resident at the time, and military spouse, whose husband, Maj. Neng Vang, was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How Florent Groberg earned his Medal of Honor

Just shy of twenty years ago, Florent Groberg was getting ready to graduate from high school. He was a newly-minted American, an immigrant from France. Like many Americans, he went on to college and studied things he was passionate about while playing college sports in his spare time.

Unlike many Americans, Groberg didn’t go off to work in the civilian sector after graduating. Groberg joined the U.S. Army and became an officer in 2008. That decision would alter the course of his life forever.


‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to retired U.S. Army Capt. Florent Groberg

Since entering the Army in 2008, Groberg has had some 33 surgeries and was retired from the service. His time in the Army was, of course, consequential for many, not just himself. His second tour in Afghanistan would be the defining event of his service.

He was a Personal Security Detachment Commander for Task Force Mountain Warrior in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in August 2012. One day, while escorting high-ranking senior American and Afghan leaders to the provincial governor’s compound, Groberg noticed one person making a beeline for their protected formation. Noticing a significant bulge in the man’s clothing, the Army officer didn’t just shout at the man, he ran toward him.

Before anyone else could react, Capt. Groberg used his body to push the would-be suicide bomber away from the formation, not once but twice before he could detonate his vest. The blast killed four members of the formation but it could have been a lot worse – Groberg managed to push the man well outside the formation’s perimeter, limiting the damage to the group, while taking the brunt of it himself. The blast detonated a second vest nearby, which blew up almost harmlessly.

For Groberg, the first explosion was anything but harmless. The blast took off half of his calf leg muscle while damaging his nervous system, blowing his eardrums, and delivering a traumatic brain injury – but it could have been a whole lot worse.

You can catch Florent Groberg speak at the 2019 Military Influencer Conference in the Washington, D.C. area on Sept. 8-10, 2019, courtesy of Caliber Home Loans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US plan to survive a Soviet nuke was absolutely bonkers

A sudden flash. A mushroom cloud. A sudden expanding pressure wave. In the event of a thermonuclear attack, seeing these things means its probably too late to survive. So the U.S. developed warning systems to give Americans a heads up before the bombs landed. But that begs the question: What do you do if you have just an hour or so until your city blows up?


Coordinating protection and relief for civilians in war falls to civil defense workers, and America’s civil defense program underwent an overhaul after World War II. Many of the funding and legislative changes were focused on responding to atomic and nuclear threats.

But hearings in 1955 revealed that civil defense was, uh, let’s say, far from robust. How far?

Well, Administrator Val Peterson told Congress that Americans should learn to dig holes in the ground and curl up in them to escape nuclear fallout. But he did also offer that the government could dig trenches next to highways for about .25 per mile and then cover the trenches with boards and soil for additional protection. In some areas, the boards and dirt could be replaced with tar paper.

Even at the time, the public realized a huge shortcoming of this plan: Ditches don’t last. They have to be dug for a specific attack, and the diggers would need at least a few days notice to provide shelter for a significant portion of a city.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

(Seattle Municipal Archives)

And people in the 1950s were also familiar with pissing and pooping. These trenches would have no sanitation, water, or food, and people would have to stay in them for days. At the time, it was believed that a few days might be enough time for the radioactivity to fall to safe-ish levels. We now know it’s a year or more for the longer-lasting radioactive isotopes to get anywhere near safe.

But meanwhile, even a few days in trenches is problematic. For the first few hours, radiation is at peak strength, and any dust that makes its way from the surface into the trench is going to have levels of radiation high enough to threaten imminent death. This dust needs to be washed off as quickly as possible, something that can’t happen in a trench surrounded by more radioactive dust with no water.

Oh, and, btw, canned food and bottled water will become irradiated if not shielded when the bomb goes off.

But there was another plan that, um, had many of the same problems. This called for laying long stretches of concrete pipe and then burying it in a few feet of dirt. Same sanitation and supply problems, worst claustrophobia. But at least less irradiated dust would make it into the civilians huddling inside.

Duck And Cover (1951) Bert The Turtle

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Most of this information was learned by the public in 1955 during those public hearings. Though, obviously, portions of the hearings were classified, and so the public wouldn’t learn about them for decades. One of the items that came out in closed session was that the irradiated zone from a hydrogen bomb would easily stretch for 145 miles with the right winds. A serious problem for the farmers who thought they were safe 40 miles from the city.

Things did get better as the Cold War continued, though. Government agencies, especially the Federal Civil Defense Administration, encouraged the construction of hospitals and other key infrastructure on the perimeters of cities where it would be more likely to survive the blast of a bomb (though it still would have certainly been irradiated if downwind of the epicenter).

Educational videos gave people some idea of what they should do after a bomb drop, though, like digging trenches next to highways, most of the actions an individual could take were marginal at best. Those old “Duck and Cover” cartoons from 1951? Yup, ducking and covering will help, but not enough to save most people at most distances from the bomb.

What you really need to do is find a nice, recently dug trench.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Will peace in Westeros actually last?

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

This chilling line, spoken with gleeful malice by Ramsay Bolton in season 3 of Game of Thrones, always felt like the closest thing the HBO show had to a thesis statement. From the very beginning, Game of Thrones has made it abundantly clear that it was not in the business of pleasing its fans. Heroes like Ned and Robb Stark suffered brutal, shocking deaths that highlighted the cruel and chaotic nature of the world of Westeros. Oberyn, a man seeking vengeance for the death and rape of his sister, was instead killed by the very man who murdered his sister. A young girl was burnt alive by her own father seeking to further his claim to the throne.


Even George R.R. Martin made no efforts to hide the story’s unabashed acknowledgment of darkness, as he famously alluded to Game of Thrones ending as “bittersweet.” So naturally, heading into the final season, we all braced for the worst. Would the White Walkers end up on the throne? Would Arya’s bloodlust overcome her, sending her on a John Wick-esque killing spree of all the leaders of Westeros, including her siblings? The possibilities seemed endless, which is why it was such a surprise to see that season 8, episode 6, ‘The Iron Throne’ ended on such an uplifting and optimistic note.

If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention…

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Of course, this is Game of Thrones, so obviously, its version of a happy ending is quite different than what you might expect from a rom-com or buddy comedy. Over the course of the final season, several beloved characters died, including Jaime, Cersei, Jorah, Lyanna, and, of course, Dany, who was stabbed by her lover-turned-nephew Jon Snow just as she finally reached the Iron Throne. And beyond characters that we knew, countless soldiers and innocent civilians were slaughtered during Dany’s takeover of King’s Landing. Death was always an essential part of the show’s DNA, so it should come as no surprise that it remained a core component in the final season.

However, once Drogon symbolically roasted the throne and headed off with Dany’s corpse, the show suddenly took a tonal shift that could almost be described as cheerful? Bran is chosen as the King of Six Kingdoms and absolves Tyrion’s treason charges by casually making him his Hand. As a result, Bronn, Brienne, Sam, and Davos are all appointed to the high council, despite some of their questionable qualifications. Whether or not these moments were earned is up for debate but what’s not up for debate is the fact that this is about the happiest ending Westeros could have hoped for.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western
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Moving forward, the Six Kingdoms won’t be ruled by a drunken marauder like Robert Baratheon or a cruel psychopath like Joffrey Lannister; instead, they will get Bran, an emotionless, altruistic being who barely identifies as human but makes up for it by having the ability to see the present and the future. He’s basically a superhero who has no personal desires, making him the ideal ruler to an almost absurd degree. And on his high council sit a ragtag crew of the most beloved characters in the show, who joyfully trade barbs and witticisms as their King heads off to figure out if he can warg into a dragon.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western
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And beyond the kingdom as a whole, the show protected the Starks with a sense of mercy that even Ned would have found excessive. In the early seasons, no family suffered more than the Starks, as each member of the family gets about as close to a happy ending as you could expect for them. Obviously, Bran is King but Sansa gets to remain Queen in the North, as Bran agrees to grant Winterfell independence. Jon might not be sitting on the throne but that’s never what he wanted. And thanks to Greyworm’s laughably bad negotiating skills, Jon’s “punishment” is abdicating his responsibility to join the free folk up north. Meanwhile, Arya ditches Westeros to explore the great unknown, for some reason.

For longtime Game of Thrones fans, the last half of “The Iron Throne” may have felt like a jarring shift of pace because we suddenly went from gritty realism to a conclusion that felt very much in line with Tolkien’s Return of the King, right down to the heartfelt goodbye at the docks. None of this is to say that a happy ending was impossible for Game of Thrones; it’s just the show needed to earn the pivot of hopefulness that feels out of step with so much of what we came to fundamentally understand about the Westeros. Was the answer really just let the Three-Eyed-Raven be king? If so, why hadn’t anyone thought of that before? Seems almost too obvious.

Lord of the Rings- The Grey Havens

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Perhaps in Martin’s books, the story will be told in a way that makes the bitter aspect of this bittersweet ending more clear but for now, it’s a finale that almost feels like it was pulled from a less nuanced fantasy series, where kings are impossibly noble and good men and women get to live the long and happy lives they deserve. We can’t help but wonder with such a happy ending, were creators David Benioff and Daniel Weiss the ones not paying attention?

This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Top officers look into in-flight issues plaguing pilots

Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan is the Air National Guard Special Assistant to Maj. Gen. Scott F. Smith, the Director of Training and Readiness, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Va. The directorate, encompassing seven divisions and the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, is responsible for policy, guidance and oversight of Air Force operations.

General Vaughan also serves as the lead for the Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team (AF-PEAT) and co-leads the ad hoc Joint-PEAT, along with Navy Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman.


General Vaughan completed Reserve Officer Training Corps at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his commission as honor graduate from ANG’s Academy of Military Science. He previously served in leadership roles at the squadron, group, wing and higher headquarters levels in both the mobility and combat air forces. General Vaughan commanded the 156th Airlift Wing, Puerto Rico, and Detachment 1 of the 13th Air Expeditionary Group (formerly the 13th Expeditionary Support Squadron), Antarctica.

During an interview with Airman Magazine, Gen. Vaughan discussed his new post leading the joint investigation of Unexplained Physiological Episodes (UPEs) and his experiences as a mobility and combat airman and safety officer.

Interview Topic Navigator

1. What is the PEAT?
2. Physiological Episode Symptoms
3. Physiological Data
4. Pilot Physicians
5. Big Data
6. RPA and Cyber Communities
7. Message to airmen

Airman Magazine: Please tell us about your new job investigating Unexplained Physiological Episodes.

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: As part of my role working in A3T, I’ve been tasked by the A3 Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly to lead the Physiological Episodes Action Team, also known as the PEAT.

PE stands for physiological episode or event. Essentially it’s any anomaly in the interaction among the aircrew, equipment, and environment that causes adverse physical or cognitive symptoms, which may impede the ability to fly..

What we’ve done across the Air Force and all aircraft, but most recently with the T-6 fleet, is to investigate what causes PEs. In some cases an Unknown PE will immediately reveal to us what happened. Maybe there was some sort of contamination in the cockpit due to an oil leak or some other fumes, so we’re able to identify it as a known physiological event.

In other cases, pilots will experience symptoms, come down and land, report them and we don’t know exactly what the cause is until we investigate further.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Members of the Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team and Air Force PEAT listen to a discussion between Rear Adm. Fredrick R. “Lucky” Luchtman (left) and Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward L. “Hertz” Vaughan (right) as they lay the ground work for the Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team, or J-PEAT.

(Photo by Scot Cregan)

Airman Magazine: Tell me about the PEAT. What is the structure and objective of the team?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: The AF-PEAT is Air Force Physiological Episodes Action Team. Now, previously this has been known as the UPE IT or Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team.
We’re working very closely with our Navy partners and they came up with a pretty good name – Physiological Episodes Action Team. In the interest of both jointness and keeping it simple for all the flying community, we’ve aligned names with the Navy.

Of course, that’s not the only thing we’ve learned from the Navy. The Navy’s had some great success in exploring what happens in physiological episodes, what happens to aviators, and we’ve been able to learn a lot from them and they’ve learned from us as well.

Airman Magazine: How does the PEAT operate?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We have two meetings per week. Every Friday the Air Force PEAT meets. Who is on this action team? The answer is those people who are required for that particular meeting.

We’ll have the topics of the week, sometimes we’re looking at specific incidents with airplanes, specific episodes, and other times we may be investigating new equipment that’s coming out, new procedures, new training or maybe there’s the results of an investigation that we’ll need to review. We have standing members of the team, about half a dozen, that are there at every meeting.

Then we have another kind of a second layer of folks, which gets us up closer to 20 people, who come in as needed. That second layer includes folks from the acquisition community or the 711th Human Performance Wing. We don’t necessarily need to have them come to every meeting, but there’s times we really need somebody from human performance wing present. That’s one meeting.

Then immediately following that meeting, we have, what I call the Joint-PEAT. It’s really an ad hoc Joint Physiological Episodes Action Team with the Navy. It is very much a joint effort in that we work closely together and meet weekly to keep a steady battle rhythm so as things come up during the week, if they’re not an emergency or if it’s not something that we’ve got to address right at that minute, we’ll be able to put it together on Friday. We know that once a week we’re going to have a meeting where we can sit down face-to-face and hash these things out.

My Navy counterpart is Rear Adm. Frederick Luckman, he goes by “Lucky”. My call sign is “Hertz”. We immediately got to a Hertz-Lucky professional friendly demeanor. We go through an awful lot of coffee. He and I meet as often as we can to share data. Like I said, we cannot share the information fast enough.

The Navy is doing a lot of good work. They had a series of issues with physiology not only in the F-18, but T-45s, and they’ve had very good success in their T-6 fleet. They have a T-6 fleet that’s about half the size of the Air Force’s. They have slightly different models, some of theirs are newer models, but the oxygen systems are very similar.

The Navy adopted early on, in response to some of the lessons they learned from other airframes, significant maintenance practices in their T-6 oxygen system that we found very useful. We watched the Navy adopt those, saw the results of it and in those cases we’ve been able to adopt it exactly the same way that they have.

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‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Brig. Gen. Edward L. Vaughan, head of the Air Force Unexplained Physiological Events Integration Team, and Rear Adm. Fredrick R. Luchtman, Navy Physiological Episodes Action Team lead, discuss ongoing efforts to minimize the risk of Physiological Episodes.

(U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Scot Cregan)

Airman Magazine: How does the timely resolution of PEs, affect training and readiness?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Looking at the National Defense Strategy, lethality is the primary objective and, for the Air Force, that equates to readiness. Are we ready to fight? You know, the question is readiness for what? Ready to do what? It’s ready to prosecute the war, ready to fight. In some cases, being ready to go out and influence and be that presence where we need to be.

If we’re having equipment struggles, delays in our programs, or we’re having to stand-down aircraft or cancel missions because of physiological episodes that will get in the way of us being ready. It will get in the way of us executing any plans we may have out there. So it’s important for us to get the information back, put the fixes in, get those funded, fielded and executed as quickly as possible. Once we do that, we’re going to enhance readiness and capability as we grow toward the Air Force We Need.

It also eliminates a distraction. Anytime you have aircraft mishaps of any kind, anytime you have a cluster of these PEs, it’s going to create a distraction, not just for the frontline airman, but for their families, and anybody else associated with it. Anybody involved with the operation and maintenance will have a distraction. That distraction takes our eye off the readiness ball. That’s one of the reasons that you’ll see the PEAT, Physiological Episodes Acting Team, embedded right in A3T. A3T’s tasking is training and readiness.

Airman Magazine: What types of symptoms are commonly associated with PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Symptoms span the spectrum of what can happen to people on airplanes. I’ll caveat this with Air Force aviators receive extensive training in physiology and what may happen to them in tactical aviation. All pilots and other aircrew going through their initial training, experience the hypobaric chamber, we call it the altitude chamber. They get used to what it’s like to operate at high altitudes and what happens during decompression. They also have routine refresher training in all aspects of aviation physiology.

One of the main reasons for doing that training is so that each aviator can learn what their individual symptoms will be. No two people will react the same to an aircraft or environmental stimulus and, in fact, the same person may have different reactions on different days based on fatigue, fitness, nutrition, or other personal factors.

It’s important for each aviator to have a sense of what symptoms they might have, especially the early onset symptoms, so they can take early appropriate action to safely recover the aircraft or get out of the environment that’s causing the problem.

Some of these symptoms can range from things like tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes, headaches or nausea. There are actually cases of folks having euphoria, while other folks may become belligerent. They know if you’re flying along and all of a sudden you just feel a little irritated for no particular reason it may be time to check your oxygen system, look at the environment you’re in or determine if that’s caused by something else. Then take appropriate action to mitigate the risk.

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Airman Magazine: You have said that when investigating and mitigating PEs, “We can’t share information fast enough.” Describe what you mean and how that process can be improved?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Sharing the right information and then making sense of the information is very important in dealing with this phenomenon. What we do right now in the Air Force is we listen to the pilots. Pilots will land and give us a debrief – What happened? When did it happen? What types of conditions were going on in the airplane?

You’ll find that in the Air Force fleet, and the Navy fleet as well, most of the aircraft have pretty sophisticated sensors when it comes to their engines and other aircraft systems. When they land that information is downloaded, aggregated, and acted upon. Much of the critical data is available real time and available to the pilot for immediate action. Each aircraft is slightly different as technology improves, but the amount of data that we’re able to download from a given flight is enormous. But hard data on the human weapon system is slim to none.

This gets into right into some of the themes of Secretary of the Air Force has talked about going into artificial intelligence, big data analytics. How do we deal with all this data, make some sense of it and not run down the wrong path to get a wrong conclusion?

I will tell you one area though, where we’re still struggling, not only the Air Force, but also the Navy and our colleagues at NASA, is collecting data from the actual human weapon system.

We want to know things like pulse rate, oxygen content in the blood, cognitive functions, any anomalies with eyesight, but these are very hard things to sense independently without interfering with the aviators while they conduct their mission.

That’s a fascinating area of research that’s happening out at the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in conjunction with the Navy Medical Research Unit Dayton. What they’ve started to do, both those labs working together and along with some NASA support, is fielding some prototypes, such as sensors that might go, for example, in the (oxygen) mask or on the pilot’s helmet.

We actually know real-time information about the oxygen system in an airplane. We have sensors on the actual system to know the content of oxygen and other gases that might be presented to the aviator. What we don’t know is what happens in system losses; what happens between the actual oxygen production or the oxygen source and the pilot’s breathing. Furthermore, we don’t know the pilot’s ability to uptake that oxygen. There’s a lot of medical and physiological processes that we need to monitor better.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

A technique called Hybrid 3D Printing, developed by AFRL researchers in collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, uses additive manufacturing to integrate soft, conductive inks with material substrates to create stretchable electronic devices.

(Wyss Institute photo)

Airman Magazine: What does the end state of this research look like? Are you talking about monitoring physiological responses of pilots during missions in real time?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: That’s absolutely correct. We’d like to get to an end state where the human weapon system is instrumented in such a way that’s noninvasive and nonintrusive. The aviators won’t feel the sensors and it doesn’t interfere with their duties at all, but that that data is available just like you would read all the instruments on an engine. We’re trying to figure out, is that five years from now, two years from now or 20 years from now?

If you think of the human on the loop or in the loop going forward, especially in cyber systems and integrating across all-domain operations, it’s going to be more important than ever to make sure that the human weapon system is keeping up and that we’re able to monitor that.

So we’re looking at sensors that might be wearable. A lot of folks out in the community are familiar with wearable fitness monitors and the chips that go in your shoes if you’re going to run a race to keep track of where you are. One of the challenges we have in aviation is the sensors that might be worn in commercial practice that people might buy at a local store are not suitable for the aviation environment, particularly tactical aviation.

Not only do you have the pressure and temperature anomalies that occur as airplanes travel up and down, but in tactical aviation, fighters, bombers and training aircraft, there’s an awful lot of G-loading. There can be anomalies that go from high altitude to low altitude in very short order and that has a lot of wear and tear on the sensors.
Some sensors are embedded in clothing and depend on contact with the skin. For example, in order to prepare themselves for a mission, aviators will strap down tighter than you might in an automobile to keep them safe, but that may also cause bulges in the clothing that interferes with sensory contact. There’s a lot of research yet to be done and a lot of development ahead of us.

I’m looking forward to the Air Force potentially investing more in that research. I’m especially impressed with our ability to work with our joint partners with the Navy and the Army, which is coming on board later this month, in this PEAT effort. They’ve got a lot of exciting things happening in their aerospace medicine field and then NASA has been a partner throughout. You really can’t beat, from an intellectual capacity standpoint, having partners like the 711th Human Performance Wing and NASA. We’ve got the best partners in the world.

Airman Magazine: Are there other interagency or commercial partners in the research and investigation of PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Absolutely. Some of the companies that produce our aircraft have divisions dedicated to human physiology and enhancing the ability of the human to perform in or on the loop. They provide enhancements such as providing sensors and digital displays. In some cases, even an augmented reality display, which we have in many aircraft, where there’s a lens that comes over one eye and not only can you see your environment, but that lens will produce a heads-up display of images that will help you interpret what you’re seeing on the ground.

Not only do we have industry partners that helping us with this, we also have universities and some international partners. Primarily we’re working through the Navy to access the folks that are doing that work on the outside, but we’re going to start working a little more with our international affairs group here in the Air Force to foster those partnerships.

Airman Magazine: Do you see a time when human sensor capability will be baked in rather than bolted on?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I think we’re going to get to that point. Right now, we’ve got to be sensitive to the fact, that if we start utilizing every sensor that’s available commercially, we run the risk of interfering with the mission and maybe causing a distraction. The last thing we want to do is have sensors be the cause of problems. We want the sensors to help us solve those problems.

We’re looking at ways to prototype these things. Edwards Air Force Base, for example, where we do a lot of research and development flight testing, has been very instrumental in working with the 711th Human Performance Wing and the system program offices for the airplanes, to include the T-6, F-15, F-16 and others, in doing some remarkable testing that gives us great foundational data. That foundational data is important to determine where we do the development going forward. Also, we recently shook hands on an agreement with the Civil Air Patrol to help us collect, assess, and sort through the many commercially available wearable sensors.

Airman Magazine: What’s the benefit to the force of being able to process and utilize PE data faster?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So for example, right now if we have a physiological event in the aircraft, we typically execute emergency procedures, get to a safe backup source of oxygen if it’s available, descend to an altitude where it’s safe to breathe ambient air and then land as soon as possible at the nearest suitable airfield.

Perhaps what will happen in the future, with sensors on board, you may be able to head off that emergency. Sensors may alert the pilots to the fact that they are entering a phase of flight or a set of activities or an environment, where they’re at higher risk of these kinds of anomalies. By alerting the pilot to that, they may be able to mitigate it or avoid a physiological event.

Furthermore, if there is a situation in flight, the sensors on board that gives them real time readings may enable them to do a better job of assessing what’s going on.

But this is where it gets insidious. With physiological events, one serious possible symptom is an inability to assess the situation.

Now that’s a pretty extreme symptom, but you may have those situations come up. In which case, presenting the data to the pilot as numbers or another traditional data format might not be as useful as, maybe, an alert light. There are some programs out there that cause the oxygen mask to vibrate a little bit. We do this with the control stick in airplanes as well. With such an equipped aircraft if you were to get into a stall, the control stick vibrates, They call it a stick shaker. Applying these proven technologies to other areas are all in prototype and being tested.

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‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Zach Demers, an aerospace engineer, demonstrates the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) in an F-16 flight simulator at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Airman Magazine: Weren’t you involved in the adoption of another pilot safety system?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Formerly, I served as the Air National Guard’s national director of safety. Part of our safety portfolio is flight safety and in that we have some advanced fourth and fifth- generation aircraft, but we also have legacy systems out there. Systems that don’t have baked-in ground collision avoidance systems.

We worked very hard with the system program office and the Pilot Physician program in the United States Air Force to bring on board these Auto G-CAS systems (Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System). We have confirmed saves in situations where the pilot may have lost awareness. It doesn’t have to be a physiological event. It can be task saturation or other things that cause the pilot to lose awareness of proximity to the ground. Traditional GCAS systems will alert the pilot, such as an X symbol in the heads-up display, letting them know they’re near the ground and need to pull back on the stick.

In the Auto G-CAS, the aircraft sensors can actually determine the point where the pilot can no longer recover, due to the limits of human reaction time, and the system takes over the jet and recovers it for the pilot. As soon as the aircraft is in a safe regime, it returns the control back to the pilot. And that’s also had a couple of great saves for us.

Airman Magazine: You mentioned the Pilot Physician program, what is that and are they involved in the J-PEAT and investigating of UPEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Pilot Physician is a very unique program in the Air Force and its highly specialized. These are individuals are rated aviators of all sorts, but primarily pilots. Then they go to medical school and change their job category. So they’re no longer primarily pilots for the Air Force, they’re now physicians for the Air Force.

They’ve enabled to help us understand what’s going on both operationally and medically and where those two things meet. In other situations, you have pilots who were trying to describe what’s happening to them in the airplane and then you have medical doctors trying to understand that description. There can be things lost in translation between the communities.

The Pilot Physicians speak both aviation and medicine fluently, are able to identify with the pilots and, in many cases, have flown that exact aircraft being investigated.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Lt. Col. Jay Flottmann, pilot physician and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, explains how a valve in the upper pressure garment and the shape and the size of oxygen delivery hoses and connection points contributed to previously unexplained physiological issues during F-22 flights.

(Photo by Senior Airman Christina Brownlow)

Airman Magazine: Are there specific examples of investigations that benefitted from Pilot Physician experience and expertise?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Lt. Col. James “Bones” Flottman was the Pilot Physician directly involved in the F-22 investigation that we did a few years ago. The F-22 had a series of physiological episodes. He was the one that was able, as an F-22 pilot and a physician, to credibly determine that it was a work of breathing issue.

It was a combination of factors, we don’t need to go into all the specifics right here, but he was able to bridge the gap between pilot practices, things they’ve been taught to do and things they did through experience, and what was happening medically. That resulted in improvements in the whole system – improvements in some of the hardware and improvements in the pilot practices. Not only was he able to help the investigation team solve that, he was able to then go back and credibly relate this to the pilots, restoring faith both in the system, in the Air Force process.

There’s another one that is a friend of mine, retired Col. Peter Mapes. Dr. Pete Mapes is a classic Pilot Physician. He was a B-52 pilot and a fantastic doctor, as are all of them. He and I worked closely together on Auto G-CAS, as well as several key people in engineering and operations. He was really the driving force, along with Lt. Col. Kevin Price, at the Air Force and the OSD level to push that development and production through, especially for the legacy aircraft.

He also had a role in many other aviation safety improvements to include helicopters, specifically wire detection. A lot of helicopters have mishaps because they strike power lines. He was instrumental in getting some of those systems put into helicopters and out into the fleet.

He was also instrumental in improving some of the seat designs and some of the pilot-aircraft interface designs as well. Really too many to mention.

Another great a success story for the Air Force, when it comes to the Pilot Physician program is Col. Kathy Hughes, call sign “Fog”. She’s flown the T-38 and A-10, a great flying background, and has been a wonderful physician for the Air Force. She really explored the use, the application and the design of our G-suits and was able to help the Air Force evolve into a full coverage G-suit. So now the G-suits that our fighter aviators fly are more standardized and more effective than the previous generations of flight suits. Thanks, in large part, to her work. I recently met her at aviation safety conference where she is helping commercial interests design better ejection seats.

That’s just three examples. There’s a whole laundry list.

We also have advising both the Navy and Air Force PEAT, Col. William P. Mueller; call sign “Ferris”. Col. Mueller was an F-4 fighter pilot and now one of the top physicians in aerospace medicine. He’s been absolutely invaluable in helping us understand what’s going on with the physiological episodes. He not only sits on the Air Force PEAT, but he also has a permanent membership sitting on the Navy’s PEAT. So he’s part of that joint interaction and offers a fearless perspective on improving training.

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‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Col. Kathryn Hughes, a pilot-physician and director, Human Systems Integration, 711th Human Performance Wing, sits on the stairs of a centrifuge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 22, 2016.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Airman Magazine: Could research into making Big Data more easily utilized by the warfighter have an application in investigating and mitigating PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I like using the email analogy. So most of us have email. Those that work in an office may have one for work and one for personal use, or maybe even more than that. If you’re like me at all, if you skip checking your emails for even one day, you find yourself in a huge email deficit. Now imagine all the sensors, whether it’s a cyber system, aircraft systems, space system, and each piece of all the data being collected as an email coming to you. Within minutes you would be completely overwhelmed with data. So we’re going to rely on systems to help us sort through the data and present those things that are most important now for decision making.

Those other pieces of information that we might want later for analysis, it will store those and present them at the appropriate time. So that gets after artificial intelligence. We need these systems to work with the human in the loop. We don’t necessarily want it to be standalone. We want it to be integrated with humans and that’s where the real challenge comes in, because as an aviator flying an airplane, the data I want right at that moment to prosecute the fight, may be different than the data a cyber operator working with me in that operation may need at that same moment. Artificial Intelligence or underlying data systems will have to be smart enough to give the data to the operator that’s needed to make the right decision.

I recently spent some time with Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. I asked him about this wicked technology problem of applying artificial intelligence on the tactical edge. His advice about leveraging cloud technology to perform advanced operations on big data, where and when needed, has been invaluable.

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Airman Magazine: How does recorded data on individual pilots allow you establish baseline physiology and find relationships between PEs that may occur in aircrew from different units and bases?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: We’re already finding benefit from that data, so the 711th Human Performance Wing is working very closely, in this case with the T-6 system program office, and some big data analytic gurus. These folks will take large volumes of data and slice and dice it to find where there might be some differences from what would be considered a baseline or normal.

Then they can dig into those differences and see if there is something to learn. They’re finding a lot of great results that help us improve the systems. Because physiological events involve humans and each human has such a different reaction and an individual person will have a different reaction on a different day, it can be difficult to look at a small sample size and draw any big lessons. We need large sample sizes and that’s where you can start to kind of tease out the pieces of the data that are going to move us forward.

As we worked with the Navy on the Physiological Episode Action Team we have found that pilots in the Air Force and the Navy are more informed than ever. They know people in the tech business and the pilots talk amongst themselves and share information and they’re finding these wearable sensors.

Most of the wearable sensors are not suitable for aviation use. They just can’t provide good data under those conditions, but it’s worth exploring. Talking to Admiral Luckman, we wanted to find a way to get these sensors, and most of them are small things like fitness monitors, that just aren’t allowed in our environment right now, into the cockpit just to see how they survive a flight. The Civil Air Patrol, which flies general aviation aircraft, fly with their smart phones and other types of equipment.

They have a tremendous safety record, but they also have a completely different set of rules than we do. They typically just follow the AIM and the FAA civilian flight rules. Most of those flight rules don’t have any prohibitions on bringing equipment in your pocket or your flight bag.

So recently we sat down with some of the leaders of the Civil Air Patrol to work out a memorandum of understanding whereabouts we’ll get these ideas and sensors to our pilots in the fleet. Some of them will appropriately go through Air Force and Navy channels and may end up being something of a program of record in the long term.

Others that we can’t cross that gap and into the system, we’ll offer those to Civil Air Patrol and, at their option, they can start flying those. It’s not official flight test, but they can at least tell us, does this thing survive a flight up to 10,000 feet and back. And that piece of information might be just enough. That then allows our system program office with the labs to start taking a closer look.

Airman Magazine: This may seem like an odd question, but do PEs occur within the RPA or cyber communities where the ops tempo is so extreme?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: So that’s a great question and that’s why I think the development of sensors and better understanding of baseline human physiology is so important.

The RPA environment is just the tip of the iceberg. As we look at humans in the loop or on the loop, human physiology, whether it’s in cyber, RPAs, intel, space, any of the other missions that we’re doing, is a very important consideration.

What we don’t have yet is a tremendous amount of baseline data. What’s physiology supposed to look like in those situations? So when it’s different, how would we know it? That’s some of the work that’s going on right now at the labs is base-lining that data.

I will tell you that while the environment of RPAs is uniquely different than the environment in airplanes, but it’s not always easier. You have a lot of folks that are out there engaged in very serious operations, life and death situations, that they are dealing with for hours on end and then go home every night to their families and to would be a normal environment. Most people have coping mechanisms to deal with that. But that’s one of the areas of research that folks are looking at in the labs – how do we better prepare people to go back and forth between these kinds of environments?

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‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

Maj. Bishane, an MQ-9 Reaper pilot, controls an aircraft from Creech Air Force Base, Nevada. RPA personnel deal with the stressors of a deployed military service member while trying to maintain the normalcy of a day-to-day life.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

Airman Magazine: Let’s shift gears and talk about your career history. How does leading PEAT differ from your past experiences as a safety officer at a wing or a squadron?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: Prior to this, I worked for Secretary Mattis in OSD reserve integration. We basically informed OSD policy relative to the seven different reserve components out there to include the Air National Guard.

Before that, I served as commander of the 156th Airlift Wing. As a wing commander, it is a minute-by-minute duty to make risk decisions and it’s very important to realize the consequences of those decisions and understand that whole risk matrix.

In my current position, I’m not a commander of anything. I’m not really in charge of folks specifically. We have a team, but we come together as required. So this job is more informative. One of our primary roles is to inform commanders. As they give us data, we give them back context so they can make better risk decisions.

It also allows the labs to put a focus on their studies enabling the system program offices to acquire and improve systems to support the mission. So this job is very different in that respect.

I think having been a commander previously helps me understand what these commanders they need to hear and how they want to receive that data so it doesn’t overwhelm them.

Airman Magazine: What is it you would like the pilots and aircrew to know about you, the PEAT and their part in preventing and mitigating PEs?

Brig. Gen. Vaughan: I traveled to Randolph Air Force Base and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the higher headquarters staff. I met with the commander of 19th Air Force and I was very encouraged and reassured with everyone’s openness to really solving this problem as aggressively and quickly as possible, talking about physiological episodes, but also, in a broader sense, the sustainment of the T-6 and sustainment of other airframes for which people might be interested.

I feel good about where that’s going. I also had a real eye-opener when I had an opportunity to meet with some of the T-6 pilots. We met off base. We decided to meet in a restaurant in a casual environment. We wanted that format because I wanted to hear really unfiltered what some of these T-6 pilots, who are some of the most experienced pilots in the Air Force flying that mission, that airframe. I was able to learn a lot. They have great faith in their chain of command and leadership. They have valid and serious concerns about physiological episodes, as does the commander all the way up to the chief of staff and the Secretary.

I think being able to hear their perspective, share with them my firsthand knowledge of meeting with senior level commanders in the Air Force bridged some gaps. I also was able to hear some very specific engineering questions and connect some of those pilots directly with some of the engineers at the system program office and some folks within their own chain of command that they just haven’t connected with yet. Just trying to get those dialogues going, because the solutions that the air Force is putting into place, whether it’s T-6 or any other airframe, are usually phased. Some of them require major investment, money and time-wise, and those take a little longer to accomplish.

So how do you bridge the gap between today and when we get to that promised land if some of those bigger fixes and it comes down to some solid risk management? In the case of the T-6, there’s a whole list of maintenance protocols that we handle and emergency procedures for the pilots that don’t necessarily reduce the number of these events, but they can reduce the severity and certainly mitigate the consequences. That’s what we’re trying to do. We don’t want a situation where any physiological episode goes far enough to lead to a permanent injury or harm of an aviator destruction of property. We want to catch those things as early as possible through these mitigation techniques.

Another thing I got to do when I was at Randolph was shadow the maintainers as they did maintenance on a T-6 that had a physiological episode. In the past, when these things would happen, there wasn’t a specific protocol. They would do their very best to look at the oxygen system, but there wasn’t a protocol on how to do that.

‘The Mandalorian’: An honest-to-god old western

T-6 Texans fly in formation over Laughlin AFB, TX.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Allen)

Over the last year, with the help of a lot of the pilots, doctors, chain of command folks, human performance wing – a big team effort, when the airplane lands after one of those instances it’s an automatic protocol for that oxygen system.

In most cases it’s removed and a new one is put in and the suspect system then gets this thorough going over at the depot level and not only do we fix that, that particular system and return it to service. We’re able to learn a lot and collect data points. In some cases, we don’t find the specific cause in that system and then we look elsewhere – maybe more pilot interviews, talking to the doctors and trying to piece it together.

The protocols that are out there now not only helped mitigate the consequences of these events until we field new equipment, but they also help us in collecting data that will inform better decisions going forward.

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This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

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